DONETSK, Ukraine (Reuters) - Pro-Russian separatists cannot “morally” stop fighting for control of a town in east Ukraine where they have encircled government troops despite a peace deal, a senior rebel representative said on Tuesday.
Denis Pushilin also told Reuters before a scheduled conference call on implementation of the agreement that the rebels could not withdraw heavy weaponry, as set out in the deal, unless Ukrainian forces did so as well.
Fighting subsided in many parts of eastern Ukraine under the ceasefire that came into force on Sunday but not around the town of Debaltseve, which sits on a railway junction.
“We do not have the right (to stop fighting for Debaltseve). It’s even a moral thing. It’s internal territory,” Pushilin said in the rebel stronghold of Donetsk.
“We have to respond to fire, to work on destroying the enemy’s fighting positions.”
Asked about plans to carry out the agreement to withdraw big guns, he said: “We are ready at any time, we have everything ready for a mutual withdrawal. We will not do anything unilaterally - that would make our soldiers targets.”
The Ukrainian military said on Monday its forces could not carry out the agreement to pull back big guns unless fighting stopped.
The Kremlin said the leaders of Russia, Germany and Ukraine had discussed the situation around Debaltseve, the role played by monitors from the OSCE security watchdog and the planned withdrawal of big guns by phone. It gave no details.
Reporting by Anton Zverev, writing by Elizabeth Piper, editing by Timothy Heritage